31 New or Expanded Petrochemical Plants Approved in Hurricane Zone Along TX and LA Gulf Coast

Projects Approved 2016-2018 Could Produce as Much Greenhouse Gases as 11 Coal-Fired Power Plants; Total Rises 60 Percent Since 2012

Washington, D.C. – Since 2016, state regulators in Louisiana and Texas have approved 31 new oil, gas, and petrochemical projects along the Gulf Coast that will add another 50 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution – the equivalent of 11 new coal-fired power plants.

These new projects add to a petrochemical construction boom underway since at least 2012, as investors build or expand liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals, refineries, ethylene crackers, and chemical and fertilizer plants to cash in on cheap and plentiful supplies of oil and gas unleashed by fracking.

Overall, Texas and Louisiana have issued Clean Air Act permits for 74 projects since 2012 that are located within 70 miles of the Gulf Coast shoreline, according to an Environmental Integrity Project review of state records. These permits allow these new installations to add 134 million tons of global warming pollution to the atmosphere every year – as much as 29 new coal-fired power plants running around the clock.

For an online interactive data map of the new projects, click here.

The new oil and gas infrastructure is largely in coastal areas that are especially vulnerable to the storms, heavy rainfall, flooding, and sea level rise that are expected to increase as global temperatures increase, driven by greenhouse gas pollution.

“Hurricane season is a good time to think about the impact these big greenhouse gas emitters will have on global warming,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project.  “We had better  start thinking about whether all this oil and gas infrastructure is strong enough and safe enough to withstand the severe storms that are sure to follow.”

Anne Rolfes, Founding Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said: “Louisiana is already sinking into the Gulf of Mexico, and yet our state government is permitting more of the emissions that cause flooding and storms. It’s mind boggling. During the next storm, when our elected officials watch TV and see their constituents drowning, our Governor and Congressmen should be prepared to say it’s their fault, a result of their willingness to give a permit to every bad project.”

A 2014 report called the National Climate Assessment, which was written by NASA and other federal agencies and reviewed by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, warned that: “Increasingly, humanity is also adding to weather-related factors, as human-induced warming increases heavy downpours, causes more extensive storm surges due to sea level rise, and leads to more rapid spring snowmelt.”  The same report noted the sharp rise in the number of extreme rainfall events over the last thirty years.

Big storm surges can rip oil or chemical tanks off their moorings, as happened during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 at the Murphy Oil USA refinery in Chalmette, Louisiana, spreading oil and toxic wastes into rivers and surrounding neighborhoods.

In the rush to shut down operations after Hurricane Harvey made landfall last year, industries in the Houston area reported 23 incidents within 48 hours that released 2.2 million pounds of air pollution, often because of failed tanks, equipment failures or blackouts, according to an Environmental Integrity Project report, “Preparing for the Next Storm.”

Also often overrun during floods are waste ponds used to store industrial wastewater and municipal sewage and too often built in low-lying areas. Hurricane Harvey caused the release of more than 150 million gallons of wastewater during the storm, records show.

“As we saw from Hurricane Harvey last year, building massive refineries and petrochemical plants in the flood zone without adequate planning or engineering is not just a risk to the environment, but a real potential health hazard, as well,” said Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Petrochemical plants have historically been sited on or close to coastlines, because so much of their product or raw materials is shipped in and out of nearby harbors. But global warming puts that infrastructure at risk, and the consequences can be devastating.

“The Clean Air Act requires petrochemical facilities and other industrial sources to design and follow risk management plans to reduce the risk of industrial accidents,” said Schaeffer, former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA.  “Those plans should anticipate increasingly severe weather and include actions to minimize potential damage from storms.  And we can do more to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from these new plants, instead of just rubber stamping their permit applications, as Texas and Louisiana have done.”

Two new projects that were recently permitted to release the most greenhouse gases are Driftwood LNG LLC’s liquid natural gas terminal in Calcasieu Parrish, Louisiana, which is authorized to release an additional 9.5 million tons of greenhouse gases to the air, according to a state Clean Air Act permit issued on July 10, 2018.  The other is the Sabine Pass LNG Terminal in Cameron Parrish, Louisiana, which is authorized to release an additional 10.2 million tons of greenhouse gases, 2.2 million tons of which were approved in September 2017.

Of the 31 petrochemical projects approved since January 1, 2016, 15 are at chemical or plastic resin plants; 7 are at LNG plants or terminals; 5 are petroleum refineries; 2 are natural gas processing facilities; 1 is an ammonia fertilizer manufacturing plant; and 1 is a hydrogen plant, according to state records.

The 10 largest projects, locations, and total approved emission increases since 2012 are listed below:

Petrochemical Plant Project County or Parrish Approved  Annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Tons)
Sasol North America, Inc. Lake Charles Chemical Complex Cracker Project Calcasieu Parrish, LA 10,418,839
Sabine Pass LNG Terminal Cameron Parrish, LA 10,157,556
Driftwood LNG LLC – LNG Facility Calcasieu Parrish, LA 9,513,442
Cameron LNG – Cameron LNG Liquefaction Cameron Parrish, LA 9,029,617
Lake Charles Methanol LLC — Gasification Facility Calcasieu Parrish, LA 6,014,977
Corpus Christi Liquefaction LNG Terminal San Patricio County, TX 5,813,445
Golden Pass Products LLC LNG Facility Jefferson County, TX 4,940,072
CF Industries Nitrogen LLC Donaldsonville Nitrogen Complex Ascension Parrish, LA 4,848,688
Port Arthur LNG, LLC — LNG Plant and Export Terminal Jefferson County, TX 4,659,930
Trunkline LNG Export LLC Lake Charles Liquefaction Export Terminal Calcasieu Parrish, LA 4,513,540

Note:  The greenhouse gas emissions numbers in this chart are expressed as annual tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent gases (because some pollutants, such as methane, have a larger greenhouse gas impact than others.)

For a spreadsheet listing all of the projects, see attachment or click here.

States often issue permits for these projects incrementally, meaning that emission limits for the projects can increase over time. For instance, Louisiana in 2013 authorized Cameron LNG to release 4 million tons of greenhouse gases per year from a new natural gas liquefaction facility in Cameron Parrish. The state issued another permit to the plant in 2016 that allows the construction of two new production units and an additional 5 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. The total emissions from the project could be as high as 9 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that empowers communities and protects public health and the environment by investigating polluters, holding them accountable under the law, and strengthening public policy.

Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org or (443) 510-2574